Posts Tagged ‘Karachi’

Another Plea to the Chief Justice of Pakistan

April 12, 2018

By Anjum Altaf

Once upon a time there was an amenity plot assigned as a playground to a school in a central part of Karachi. Then, one day, the Government of Pakistan (GoP) took it over and handed it to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) which turned it to commercial use prompting the late Ardeshir Cowasjee to direct “A plea to the Lord Chief Justice” which appeared in this newspaper on 14.6.2009.

Lo and behold, the Lord Chief Justice took note, the case was brought to court, and a judgement pronounced on 18.12.2009 by Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja. What follows from court documents is a summary of this astounding land grab and an update of its status following the judgement.

According to the citizens the 5 acre plot was transferred by GoP to the City District Government Karachi (CDGK) on 12.8.1976 for the Lines Area Redevelopment Project and designated in the Master Plan as an amenity plot to be used as playground. It was subsequently claimed by GoP that while contiguous land was indeed transferred to CDGK, this particular plot was excluded and remained part of the Karachi Cantonment.

Following this reclamation, General Musharraf, the then military ruler, granted on 19.12.2002 a 90 years lease on the plot to the Army Welfare Trust (AWT) at the nominal yearly rent of Rs. 6,020 only. The court noted that contrary to its name that suggests some institutional affiliation with the Pakistan army, the AWT was registered as a Non-Government Organization, a private society, under the Societies Registration Act. It was however a fact that General Musharraf was at the time the ex-officio Patron of the AWT in his capacity of COAS.

On 31.7.2006, the AWT in turn transferred the land to a private party (Makro-Habib Pakistan Limited) by way of a sub-lease for an initial term of 30 years receiving an advance rent of Rs. 100,000,000 based on a variable annual amount of at least Rs. 17,500,000 and a maximum equivalent to 1% of the annual turnover of Makro-Habib which was initially incorporated as a joint venture between SHV, a Dutch multinational, and the House of Habib, a Pakistani corporate group. SHV held 70% of the equity in the venture but later divested its share to the House of Habib with permission to use the ‘Makro’ brand name. After the execution of the sub-lease, Makro-Habib constructed a wholesale centre on the plot.

Following a meticulous examination of the argument advanced by GoP, AWT, and Makro-Habib that the playground was not transferred to CDGK, the Court concluded it was “wholly untenable.” Based on this finding that the land was not the property of the MoD, both its lease of the land to AWT and the subsequent sub-lease to Makro-Habib were declared null and void. Makro-Habib was allowed “three months from the date of the judgement, to remove its structures and installations from the playground, restore it to the same condition as existed on the date of the sub-lease and hand over its vacant possession to the CDGK.”

The Court was also “led to the inescapable conclusion that Government land was virtually thrown away at great financial loss to the Government and in utter disregard of the CLA [Cantonment Land Administration] Rules.”

In addition, the Court referred specifically to a paragraph in a Ministry of Defence Summary for the Chief Executive dated 20.9.2002 which read as follows: “Since Rules do not permit leasing out defence land free of cost, MoD supports payment of nominal premium and rent by AWT, being a welfare organization.” With reference to this paragraph, the Court observed: “We have also noted the cynical play with the CLA Rules” and that the document “presents a damning indictment of dictatorial one man rule.”

The aggrieved parties filed a review petition against the decision which was dismissed by the Supreme Court on 27.8.2015. But even after the dismissal of the review petition, the orders of the Court remain outstanding. The Makro-Habib structure continues to stand although without transacting any business. The result is a lose-lose proposition in which a valuable property is fulfilling neither its original nor its engineered purpose.   

This unsatisfactory outcome prompts the following questions: How is it possible that a judgement of the Supreme Court can remain unimplemented for nine years? What is the recourse for citizens if Supreme Court judgements can be stonewalled even after the dismissal of review petitions? Why does the Supreme Court not have the powers to have its judgements implemented?

These are important questions and deserving of another plea to the Lord Chief Justice: Please take suo moto notice of why judgements on prior suo moto notices cannot be implemented. And if they cannot, to explain why the practice deserves to continue in the future.

This opinion appeared in Dawn on April 10, 2018, and is reproduced here with permission of the author. The author is indebted to Dr. Syed Raza Ali Gardezi for his critical review of the facts presented in this opinion. Dr. Gardezi continues to represent the citizens in this case.

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Karachi: The City That Was – 3

September 24, 2015

By Ahmed Kamran

Among other many finer things of a city’s life that Karachi has lost over time, the greatest loss has been the disappearance of its book stores – the windows of Karachi’s reading and thinking abilities. These are now long shut and closed. Many of the good book stores, about 18, were located in Saddar, a kind of a cultural capital of Karachi. Starting from the well-known Thomas & Thomas Book Store on the Preedy Street, next to Irani Cafe George, there were many book shops on the Elphinstone Street (now Zaibunisa Street). There was Kitab Mehal (Book Palace) inside one of the market on Elphinstone Street, known for stocking good Urdu books. Kitab Mehal was owned by a fine gentleman with good literary taste who probably had a book store by the same name near Jama Masjid in old Delhi, before Pakistan was founded. A few blocks further up on the street, there was a book store by the name of Paragon Books. It was usually well stocked with books in English at reasonable prices. Almost diagonally opposite Paragon, there was Pak-American Books, a fairly big store with a large collection of titles on all subjects and Paramount Books. A few steps up on the street there had been a book Kiosk right on the footpath, owned by the Urdu writer and dramatist Hameed Kashmiri. I remember a jovial Hameed Kashmiri manning the book stall and talking to owners of other stalls selling other smaller items. These temporary shop stalls were later removed to clear the footpath. Further up, at the intersection of Elphinstone Street with Inverarity Road, taking right turn towards Alpha Restaurant, there was Almas Books, owned by an Irani (probably a Baha’i) gentleman. He always had a variety of good books in Persian, Urdu and English. A very talkative man, the owner always approached me and volunteered his comments in his Persianised broken Urdu on the books I used to select for browsing. In late 1970s, I had bought my four volumes of Farhang-e-Asifya, (a reference Urdu dictionary) published from India from Almas Books at Rs.250, a princely sum for me in those days, a little less than half of my then one month’s salary from a bank’s job in Saddar that I had recently got. Further up on the Elphinstone Street after crossing over the Inverarity Road, a little ahead of Rio Cinema there was the Sassi Books Store.

Almost none of these book shops exist today. With the changing demography and character of the city, these book shops closed down, one after the other, falling like nine pins. They have all slipped into oblivion, leaving only some fading memories in few people’s minds. Probably, the last to hold among them was the Almas Books. The last time I visited the store sometime in 2008-09, I met the Irani owner, now a fairly old man, and found him quite angry with himself. He complained that nobody visits the book store anymore; that all other book stores are closed in Saddar, and he spends his days in the store, sitting idle and alone. He told me that his sons were pressing him hard for selling the store to some jeweller or garment trader. But he had told them that they could do that only after he was dead. About a year later, I noted that the Almas Books was no more; it had given way to a garments label store. May Lord bless the soul of that last lone crusader!

Another centre of book shops in Karachi was the Urdu Bazaar, near Burns Road and Eidgah on Bunder Road. It had innumerable book stores, printers, publishers, and stationery sellers, spread over in many adjoining streets. The offices and stores of Urdu Academy Sindh, Sheikh Shaukat Ali & Sons, and other well-known publishers were located there. The Urdu Bazaar is still there but its character has significantly changed, clearly reflecting the transformation that the society has undergone in the last about 35 years. Apart from a few book stores like Welcome Book Port and Fazli Sons who are still selling Urdu literature books, the entire Bazaar is transformed into a large centre of well-stocked, colourfully bound books on Islam – Quran, its various translations, books on Hadis (Cannon), Tafseer, Fiqh, and Jurisprudence.

The main sources of obtaining Chinese political literature in those days was the Chinese Consulate located on the south-end of Elphinstone Street, in front of the then Rio Cinema, a little ahead after crossing the Inverarity Road, going towards the Flag Staff House and today’s Avari Hotel. Here, the famed ‘Red Book’ and the selected works of Mao Tse Tung and the weekly political journal ‘Peking Review’ were available for free. The ‘Great Helmsman’ and the capital of China were still not officially renamed as ‘Mao Ze Dong’ and ‘Beijing’. Similarly, the political literature published from Moscow was available from the Soviet Union’s ‘Friendship House’ on Drigh Road (renamed as Sharea Faisal in 1974). Here only small booklets and pamphlets and the weekly political journal ‘New Times’, published from Moscow, were available. Most of other Soviet literature was available from the Standard Books, an exclusive book store that was run and supported by the pro-Moscow faction of the Communist Party of Pakistan. This book store was managed by Kabir, a lean and talkative Bengali. The Standard Books Store was on the first level of Marina Hotel & Bar, situated on the corner of the intersection of Elphinstone Street and Inverarity Road. This hotel & bar in a colonial structure building was operated by Mohammad Hussain Ata, a co-accused in the famous Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, involving Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Syed Sajjad Zaheer, together with some Pakistan Army officers, including General Akbar Khan. The Marina Hotel & Bar is also no more. It was closed, among other Bars in the country, after the alcohol prohibition orders of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the spring of 1977, in a desperate attempt to save his government from the onslaught of a united front of nine political parties espousing the demand of establishing an Islamic political and social system. In late 1980’s, the building was eventually demolished and a shopping centre, Atrium Mall, is now built on the site. The Friendship House’s activities also gradually died down; first it moved out to a smaller premise in a back alley in PECHS Block 2, before it was finally closed down. Now, in its place on main Sharea Faisal, a large IT firm’s offices and US’s multinational software giant Oracle’s training centre is located.

Many of the City’s public libraries today are dysfunctional and dilapidated, including its oldest and largest, Khaliqdina Hall (1856), Frere (now Liaqat)) Hall Library (1865), KMC Library, and the Liaqat National Library (1950). The culture of visiting libraries and Reading Rooms is also evaporating. In Karachi neighbourhoods there was a strong tradition of one-anna-a-day lending libraries, offering mostly fiction to reading hungry youth and elders alike. An interesting aspect of current state of public libraries in Karachi is that according to an official undated (most likely sometime in early 2000s) list of city’s small and large public libraries prepared by the City District Government is that of its about 55 listed libraries, 23 (42%) are located in Lyari Town and its adjacent Old Town areas whereas only 7 are in in Nazimabad & North Nazimabad, 3 are in Federal B Area, 2 in Liaqatabad, 1 in Gulshan-e-Iqbal (excluding libraries of Karachi University, Aga Khan University, NED University, and Liaqat National Library Complex) and 1 in DHA & Clifton.

The steep fall of Karachi’s cultural life is again not limited to callous displacement of its minorities, disappearance of its book stores, and disuse of its public libraries but many of the city’s public entertainment mediums have also been eradicated. Of its 119 cinemas till 1970s, about 89 of them (75%) have been closed down. Only about 30 of old cinemas in Karachi are running, none exists in Saddar today. Of late, however, there has been an addition of 5 new multiplexes mainly in Clifton, Defence, and one in Saddar to cater to the entertainment needs of city’s growing elite. Karachi’s well known and prestigious music schools and art schools have long been closed and forgotten. Like city’s cinemas, its numerous theaters, auditoriums, and public halls that were frequently used in the past for social, cultural, political, and trade union activities in Karachi, are all closed down and have given way to commercial buildings, plazas, markets or shopping malls.

The city of Karachi has clearly lost its soul. It has been torn apart and is reduced to its ashes. The dynamic of Karachi’s social and political life is dramatically changed. The wistful mourning of the dead and the past long gone alone will not remedy the situation. The key drivers and contributing factors of this change are several. Some of them are inexorable forces of history, totally oblivious to our pious or wishful thinking. The tsunami of migration rising from predominantly rural hinterland of the country has practically run over Karachi– an island of suave, urban liberal and tolerant culture with a western outlook in a rapidly encroaching sea of conservative, retrogressive society that is still struggling to free itself from the tightly binding traditional tribal, biraderi (communal fraternity) and religious sectarian bonds. This organic and natural force, once let free from the steel frame of the colonial bondage, has risen and hit the city hard and has destroyed its social fabric and cultural structures. But, clearly, some of the catastrophes contributing in the havoc, playing their devastating roles had been man-made disasters and could have been avoided. Both these organic and man-made calamities needed to be managed well, at which, unfortunately, our rulers, elite, and intellectuals alike have singularly failed. It is a task waiting for a new generation to be taken up with extra-ordinary courage and determined resolve.

… to be continued

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Karachi: The City That Was – 2

September 16, 2015

By Ahmed Kamran

In spite of a sudden influx of immigrants pouring into the city in large numbers in the wake of partition of India, Karachi’s social and cultural life remained progressive and liberal in its outlook. The influx of new population, mostly coming from other urban centres of British India, the city life quickly adjusted to the thriving commercial and business activities of the city, regaining its cultural life. Founding of the new country with its capital at Karachi brought in large number of Muhajir Intelligentsia – well trained civil servants, skillful traders, successful businessmen from Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, and Kanpur, teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, clerks and office workers, well known progressive and some radical poets, writers, journalists, and intellectuals from all over India. These people were already steeped in urban culture of British India and were long ago freed from the traditional static bonds of feudal relations, otherwise dominating in most parts of the new country. In both social and economic sense, Karachi reinforced its position as an isolated island in a predominantly rural and feudal surrounding.  The new wave of immigrants in Karachi, after initial adjustment with the life in a new country, further enriched the generally liberal and cosmopolitan character of the city built over the last 100 years. During British colonial administration, Karachi was divided in about 20 towns called Quarters e.g. Lyari Quarters, Old Town Quarters, Market Quarters, Serai Quarters, Artillery Maidan Quarters, Preedy Quarters and Saddar Quarters. After the founding of Pakistan and as Karachi became its capital, Saddar remained its cultural hub. According to the research of Architect & Town Planner Arif Hasan’s Urban Resource Centre, Karachi had a roaring night life. Saddar alone had about 10 cinemas, 17 bars & billiard rooms, 5 night clubs & discotheques (2 of them offering striptease shows), 4 music schools, and 18 book shops.

Inside the main Saddar area, bounded by and along Frere Street, Mansfield Street and Inverarity Road, there were, and still are many, albeit sadly dilapidated, multi-story old buildings with flats having balconies with decorative wrought iron or wooden railings. Here, mostly Christian Goanese, Anglos, Hindus, and Parsees were living. They were essentially fun people. Sometimes, in the evenings, especially on weekends, restricting the vehicular traffic, a part of the street used to be converted into lively fun place where amateur music bands comprising of mostly young Goanese and Anglo-Indian boys used to play pop, jazz, and rock tunes on guitars, drums, and boards placed on make-shift stages. Young boys and girls, and elderly couples, putting on nice western evening dresses used to stroll on the sidewalks, as if these streets were converted into some public social club. Young Christian and Parsee girls and women wearing skirts freely strolling on the streets in Saddar was not an uncommon sight. These carefree festive sights are now a long forgotten dream on today’s overcrowded and dirty streets of Saddar.

The heart and soul of this vibrant street culture of Karachi were Anglo-Indians and Goanese, together with a dash of Parsees and occasionally Hindu youth. Threatened by the rapidly changing demographics and the transformation of the city’s social and political dynamics into an overly aggressive and non-tolerant amalgam, most of the Goanese, Anglo-Indians, Parsees, Baha’is, and the few remaining Hindus and Jewish families have simply vanished from the streets of Karachi; most of them have quietly emigrated and took refuge in India or in countries of more tolerant societies in the West.

As Masood Hasan, a Lahore based journalist, wrote in one of his writings, “The Anglo Indians were particularly fun people. But more than the singular expertise they brought to the jobs that became traditionally their forte, they added a swing, vibrancy and a sheer joy of living spirit to our society that in many ways epitomised the new, fresh spirit that was Pakistan. That was then. Now it’s a fading sepia tone picture. Those of us who grew up with them, watched with considerable sadness as family after family left this country to go and live in alien climes. There was nothing left for them. They were wise in retrospect. Look at our bestiality towards our minorities. But while the Anglo Indians were here, they gave us a unique gift. The joy of living and of being alive.”

Recently, I had an amazing opportunity to meet a group of few hearty Anglo-Indian families of Indian and Pakistani origin in Australia and spending few wonderful nights with them on a hunting trip during an Easter holiday. After a day’s full of hunting and roaming, gathering every night around a bonfire and barbeque in pretty cold nights, deep in Australian Outback, those fun loving Anglos displayed their indomitable characteristic jovial disposition of enjoying life. They all loved playing jazz music, dance, and drinking to the bottoms up, after midnight, till they almost drop dead, with a nonstop chatter, turning into mere mumbling towards the end. After over 30 years of living in Australia, almost all of them spent much of their time, after a few drinks in the evening, talking and reminiscing about their childhood or adolescence in Kanpur, Agra, Lahore, and Karachi. Jane, Bruce Blanchet’s wife was born and lived in her young age in Lahore and had fond memories of her childhood. Their children were equally fascinated with the stories of back home that their parents had to tell them. I was particularly moved when one morning, a duo of Anglo friends, Ken and Sheridan, staying together in one of the many camps we had erected along the side of a dried up lake, specially invited me to their tent to feast on delicious and spicy Qeema and Paratha, freshly made by them on the portable stove. To top it all, after the breakfast, they even offered me Qalaqand (a typical Indian sweet), which they had brought with them from a shop in Melbourne. Surely, they enjoyed and relished the taste of the Indian food that morning far more than I did.

In the wake of partition of India, most of the Hindus had taken refuge and migrated to India in the same way as hundreds of thousands of Muslims were driven out from India towards Pakistan. But a handful of Hindu families remained in Karachi. I still relish the food that, on innumerable occasions, I had had at a small eatery attached to the Swami Narain Mandir on M.A. Jinnah Road, one of the main Hindu temples in Karachi, opposite Karachi Municipal Corporation building. In fact, whenever passing by that area in the afternoons, I preferred going to the Mandir because firstly, the food there was available at a very nominal cost, and secondly, it was clean and had good homely taste. This small eating place beside the Mandir was operated by a Sindhi Hindu family. Having a plate of Tamata or Patata or some other vegetables, with home cooked chapattis (plain thin leavened bread) was always a treat. Never ever the staff asked me or my colleagues about our religion, although, I always suspected that they knew that we did not belong to the Hindu religion. There was a Hindu-owned Shahbaz hotel in a back-street, behind Tariq Road that was a favourite joint for our meals in the evenings. The Shahbaz hotel is also no more. The Swami Narain Mandir is one of the few Hindu temples that have, so far, survived in Karachi, as, perhaps, to its good fortune, it is almost hidden behind a busy market for decorative lights and lamps on the main road. From outside, perhaps, only a few people walking by the busy M.A. Jinnah Road would know that there is a major Hindu temple of Karachi behind these high walls.

Many Hindu temples have slowly disappeared from Karachi in my memory, not to speak of the ones that were occupied and converted during the heat of the charged atmosphere of the partition in 1947. One of the most ancient Hindu temples in Karachi, the Ram Bagh Temple was occupied and converted conveniently into ‘Aram Bagh’ Mosque in the heart of the old city on Frere Road near Burns Road by the faithful, probably in 1948. The Ram Bagh temple was specially revered by the Hindus because of their belief that the God-incarnate Ram and Sita stayed there on their way for pilgrimage to the Hinglaj Temple, another even more ancient but lesser known Hindu temple, located near the coast of Makran in Baluchistan.

Till as late as mid-1970’s, there was a Hindu temple in a grove of trees behind the well-known Guru Mandir bus stop on M.A. Jinnah Road. The area was, in fact, named after this Mandir in New Town. The Mandir was at a stone’s throw from the New Town (now Binnori Town) Mosque, a well-known centre of Taliban-supporting seminary of religious education, one of the largest in the country. One day, the Guru Mandir temple simply disappeared, and now few people, especially of younger generation, wonder why the area was known as Guru Mandir whereas no Mandir exists there!

A pleasant memory of the Saddar of those days that is still lurking in my mind are the colourful chalk patterns skillfully made at the entrance of many houses that I occasionally noticed while walking on some streets of Saddar in the morning. These intriguing brightly coloured beautiful geometrical patterns on the door slabs, I learnt later, were Rangolis or Kolams or Alapnas that have ancient religious and cultural origins. These are usually made by the women and young girls of Hindu families on their entrance door slabs as auspicious and lucky signs and as marks of welcome for the deities and the equally revered guests. Parsees also make the colourful chalk powder Rangolis, especially on wedding occasions for welcoming the bridegroom’s family. For some Hindu families it is a daily routine, while for others Rangolis are drawn on certain festive occasions like Diwali. Admittedly, the Rangolis I had seen were not as large, intricate and elaborate as are now often shown in soaps on Indian Satellite TV channels. These soap TV Rangolis are commercially made for a much wider TV audience. But the Rangolis that I remember seeing on the door steps of lower middle class ordinary Hindu or Parsee families in Saddar area were simple but still very elegant.

I remember often walking past by the last Jewish synagogue – Magain Shalome Synagogue – in Karachi at the intersection of the Lawrence Road (now Nishtar Road) and Barness Street (now Jamila Street) at Ranchore Lines bus stop near Ramswami. The synagogue was commonly known in the area as ‘Israeli Masjid’. The Magain Shalome synagogue in Karachi was built by a philanthropist Jew, Solomon David Umerdekar in late 1890’s. It was a two story stone building of attractive colonial architecture with intricate facade, arched windows and sloping roof of red tiles. Till recently, there was also a Solomon David Street named after him in Ramswami area. Now it has been renamed as Suleman Dawood Street to probably give it a more acceptable Muslim accent. There is also a long forgotten Jewish cemetery with about 400 graves in the Mewa Shah graveyard at Rexer in Trans Lyari and there were about 40-50 graves in a section of the Kutchi Memon graveyard in the old Lyari Quarters. Earlier, there is said to be another Mt. Sinai synagogue in Karachi, behind Spencer’s Eye Hospital, near Lea Market on Harchand Rai Road (now Siddique Wahab Road). Reportedly, the last Rabbi of the synagogue placed the ark and the Teba in the personal custody of a local Muslim friend before fleeing from Karachi. These articles, together with holy Torah scrolls and synagogue archives covering the period from 1961-1976, were subsequently rescued by a Jewish wife of an Australian counselor posted in Pakistan in 1970’s and these items were eventually donated to the Ben-Zvi Institute Library in Jerusalem, Israel.

The Jews living in Karachi were of Beni Israel denomination observing Sephardic rites who were originally settled in the Kokan district of Maharashtra and Bombay in India for the last many centuries. A few also lived in Afghanistan, Peshawar, and Lahore. Old Bollywood Indian actresses Salochna (Ruby Meyers), Firoza Begum (Susan Solomon), and Nadra were Beni Israel Jewesses. There were about 2,500 Jews living in Karachi in early 20th century, mainly in the Ramswami and Ranchore Lines area. Abraham Reuben, a local Jew in Karachi was also elected a counselor, in 1936, in the town’s municipal committee. Most of the Jews, however, migrated to India, Israel or USA after independence of Pakistan in 1947. The last Jewish Synagogue had come under attack quite a few times after Pakistan was formed. First, it was ransacked and partly burnt in 1948 when the state of Israel was created and was immediately recognised by the U.S.A. Later, during each successive Israel-Arab wars in the Middle East in October 1956, June 1967, and October 1973, its existence was threatened. For many years, since sometime in 1960’s, the synagogue was in disuse and remained locked when I saw it. Most of the Jewish families – they were Marathi and Gujrati speaking Beni Israel Jews – in Karachi had migrated to safe havens. The last caretaker of the synagogue, Mrs. Rachel Joseph, an old primary school teacher, was still holding the fort till as late as July 1988 when the synagogue was finally demolished to give way to an ugly looking, badly constructed, multi-story shopping centre called ‘Madiha Square’. According to the journalist Akhtar Baloch – the ‘Karachi Wala, quoting Rachel’s lawyer, she finally migrated to London (DAWN, October 3, 2013). This must be sometime after May 2007 as another journalist, Reema Abbasi seems to have met Rachel, 89, in 2007, while she was still in litigation against the property developer of the shopping mall. Reema Abbasi describes Rachel as “frail and almost destitute” and refers to her conversation with the Baloch keeper of the Jewish cemetery in Mewashah when the keeper informs her that “Rachel is still a regular [visitor to the cemetry]” (DAWN, 6 May, 2007). Rachel was, perhaps, the last of the Beni Israel Jews in embarking on her Aliyah from Karachi.

The wrath of the faithful has not been limited to the Jewish synagogues or the Hindu temples. I have witnessed a Shia Imam Bara being ransacked at the intersection of the Court Road and the Frere Road (now Sharah-e-Liaqat) near Burns Road (now officially Mohamad Bin Qasim Road, but hardly anybody knows and, thankfully, cares about the change). One evening in mid-1977, before my eyes, while visiting a friend, living in a flat in the adjacent building, a functional Shia Imam Bara was forcibly occupied by a jubilant crowd, and, overnight, was converted into today’s Ahle Hadis Mosque standing in its place. Surely, there would be many other similar incidents with Shia or Qadiani mosques, Hindu temples or Christian churches elsewhere in the country.

Now, in a culturally denuded city of Karachi, all signs of peaceful and joyous traditions and cultural refinements have been wiped out over the last about 30 years. Today, there are no more ravishing Anglo-Indian and Goanese dusky maidens strolling in the evening, no more jazz and rock music being played on the streets to the groups of merry-making, carefree young boys and girls, elegantly dressed men and women, no more any Rangolis or Alapnas on the door slabs of houses in Karachi, welcoming equally the benevolent Gods and the wedding guests in the peaceful houses, and no more smartly turned, efficient, and attractive young and old Anglo-Indian and Goanese secretaries greeting the guests in corporate executive offices. Days gone past were, indeed, another country!

The markers of rapidly transforming cultural and social life of Karachi are not limited to the gradual eviction of the religious minorities from their traditional abodes but these are also visible in other aspects of city’s cultural life.

An interesting facet of Karachi’s social life was the Irani tea houses, with their typical dark polish chairs of curved backs and flat wooden seats with some designs engraved on it. These were made of special wood and a wood bending and making process. These tea houses were mostly owned by Iranis of Baha’i faith who had, years ago, taken refuge in the cosmopolitan cities of India to escape persecution of their faith in Iran. The Irani hotels in Karachi used to have a long list of tea options on their menu, usually placed on a large board prominently hanging on one of the walls. I remember seeing at least 8 or 10 types of tea on that menu e.g. qahva, karak, double, aadhia, lamba paani and order size measurements like full cup, set, half-set etc. An aadhia was a tea with half milk and half black tea, and lamba paani was diluted with extra water for those having taste of lighter tea. There were also many Malabari hotels in Karachi. These hotels of a different genre were owned by immigrants from western coastal region of Malabar in south India, today known as Kerala. These hotels were especially known for good, spicy, low cost food. I remember my favourite anda ghutala, made of whipped egg prepared with fine broken potato slices. The cheapest food I ever had in early 1970s was a plate of Nihari with two fresh Roti for 6 aanas only ((one aana was equal to 6 paisa and 4 aana was equal to 25 paisa) that is, the total cost of meal was about Pak Rs. 0.38, less than half a US Cent). In those days, the usual cost of my daily lunch meal was about 8 aana i.e. 50 paisa, but off course, it was in low cost eateries. The Irani and Malabari hotels had given a characteristic feature to the cultural landscape of Karachi. A cup of tea was available in these hotels at a nominal cost of two aanas. The Irani and Malabari restaurants in Karachi were convenient rendezvous, and acted as sort of social clubs for both young and old, middle class students, journalists, political activists, intellectuals, poets, and writers. Cafe George, Coffee House, Café High School, Qaisar hotel, Kwality, Zelins, Puff, Pehlawi, Durukhshan, Kali Muslim, Cafe Jahan and later Shezan Ampis, Alpha, and Jabees in Saddar, and Cafe Al-Hasan in Nazimabad, among others, were well known small restaurants serving as common eating places or meeting points in Karachi and had a long association with many groups of people.

Most of these hotels have now disappeared, leaving no trace behind them. Today, few people realise that for students or a person of modest means finding a decent place for having tea in Karachi is almost impossible. There is practically no choice except for either an expensive coffee shop in one of the expensive 4-5 star hotels or a few cheap tea khokas (kiosks without seats or at best a few benches in the open) in some back alleys. Probably, together with the Irani and Malabari tea houses, the culture of sitting over a cup of tea and discussing everything under the sun has also evaporated from our cultural life. In contrast, however, bazaars in every locality, lower, middle class, or upscale, are filled with scores of Chicken Karahi & Tikka shops in a row. Obviously, the public tastes have greatly changed!

… to be continued

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Karachi: The City That Was – 1

September 7, 2015

By Ahmed Kamran

Yeh laash-e be-kafan Asad-e khasta jaan ki hai
Haq maghfarat kare ajab azad mard tha! (Ghalib)

If Karachi could be likened to a man, with a little liberty taken from Ghalib, this couplet could be a very appropriate epitaph for the tombstone of Karachi, the city that was! This is a series of some musings on the social and cultural aspects of the history of Karachi; how the city’s life was developed and transformed over time. It focuses on the period of 1960s and 1970s when I was young and had many dreams. What was the Karachi that my generation had inherited and what it is today? These writings have a clear ring of nostalgia. Paul Getty said, ‘Nostalgia often leads to idle speculation’. Indeed, nostalgia is distractive, breeds inaction, and, often, depression. But like some sweet-bitter memory of childhood or a sad song or a symphony that touches chords in your heart one must some time indulge in it. Nostalgia isn’t necessarily always depressing. As Seneca says, ‘it is the recognition that a wasted life is short, that is the starting point for enjoying a long and full life’.  It is because beauty fades, that we treasure it.  It is because beauty exists, that we mourn it when it dies. As long as we can later recover from it to find causes of a loss of beauty and move on to some action for its remedy, a little nostalgia will not harm us. 

In today’s world of striding globalization, many cities, especially in the developing world, have rapidly changed themselves, and considerably. But, perhaps, none has changed as much, in as little a time, as Karachi has changed, nay, it has metamorphosed itself into a whole new existence. It is hard to believe that Pakistan was once a gentle, tolerant country. It is even harder to believe that Karachi was once a vibrant and fun loving town where streets were washed by municipal services every morning and where the civic sense was developed to an extent that a well-managed Society for the Prevention of Animal Cruelty, with a functioning veterinary clinic on Bunder (now M.A. Jinnah) Road was in existence! Karachi of 1950s and 1960s was a different world!

I remember growing up in Karachi of 1960’s and 1970s, seeing the vibrancy and amazing ‘fun culture’ in the Saddar town. It’s a sad story of how my generation lost an entire world that we grew in. Finding myself as an alien in the town of my birth and being unable to reconcile with the new aggressively intolerant world was the main driver for me to take my family to a refuge overseas. It is not easy to uproot oneself from where you belong. It causes a lot of internal pain and anguish. But, at least, I can see my children living in a society that allows freedom, albeit within certain boundaries, to think and express independently.

The Karachi of my adolescence has long gone, swallowed up by the mists of time, many of its children driven out to fend for themselves. But in their extinction lies a bigger tragedy. Saddar of Karachi today is exceedingly overcrowded place, where streets are choked with smoke-fumes belching rusty buses and equally worn out mini-buses jamming into each other, especially in the peak hours. The footpaths are filled with tens of thousands of people milling with each other, especially in the evenings, leaving literally no place to walk.

It is now almost unimaginable to visualize Karachi of 1960s with its quiet, peaceful and lively neighborhoods, children playing without fear, and, at least, in some localities, young girls enjoying taking bicycle rides. I had two Goanese brothers as friends, Jerry and Jacob, living in our neighborhood in Nazimabad. I used to sometime accompany them to Saddar to meet their friends. Saddar, the downtown of Karachi, mostly inhabited by the Goanese, Anglo-Indians, Parsees, Baha’is, Chinese, Hindus, and a few Jewish families, was the most happening place in Karachi. It was a highly cosmopolitan, liberal and tolerant district in Karachi, a last remnant of the old British colonial times. In front of the Empress Market, across Preedy Street, there was a dense, but still peaceful, neighborhood. From both sides of the Empress Market, two main arteries of Frere Street and Mansfield Street, together with Napier Street running parallel in between the two, ran upto Inverarity Road, which cut across these two main streets. Clarke Street, Church Street, and some smaller streets like Belfast Street, Cunningham Street, and Wellington Street were connecting horizontally these main streets in between. Now, with almost a complete change of the body and soul of this area, the names of the streets are also changed. Preedy Street in front of the Empress Market is Sharah-e-Liaqat. Frere Street is Allama Daudpota Road, and Mansfield Street is Syedna Burhanuddin Road. Napier Street is now Mir Karam Ali Talpur Road and Clarke Street is Sharah-e-Iraq. Inverarity Road has taken the name of Sarwar Shaheed Road whereas Church Street is taking refuge in the name of Mubarak Shaheed Road. Queen Elizabeth of U.K. may thank her Lord that the name of the Empress Market in Karachi, built in memory of her ancestor, Queen Victoria, during 1884-1889 is not yet changed. I suspect that smaller internal streets of Saddar like Belfast Street, Cunningham Street, and Wellington Street have so far escaped attention of the exalted faithful and patriots of the land. By one count, the names of not less than 51 streets in old Karachi have been renamed on record. Detailed field survey of Karachi’s landscape may produce a much higher number. Besides those mentioned above, a few of the old names such like Atmaram Street, Bonus Street, Connaught Road, Commissariat Road, Harchandrai Road, Havelock Road, Ingle Road, Queens Road, Kingsway, Queensway, Princess Street, Ramchandar Temple Road, Somerset Street, Victoria Road, Wood Street, Vishwanath Patel Road, McLeod Road, Lawrence Road, Grant Road, and Hiralal Ganatra Road are no more.

After British occupation of Sindh in 1842-1843, Karachi became its capital city. The British had conquered Sindh to clear the way for their undisturbed approach for military expeditions in Afghanistan and Iran via Baluchistan for countering the threat of Russian Czar’s southward thrust in the Central Asia. First, the British military vessel Wellseley took control of Manora and the small harbor at Karachi on 1 February 1839, without a gunshot being fired. Manora had a small mud fort fitted with a few rusty canons, brought from Muscat. But the fort capitulated without offering any resistance. For the Talpur rulers of Sindh at Hyderabad (160 Km away), Karachi was an insignificant fishermen’s settlement, too far from their seat of decaying power. The Talpurs were sunk in deep torpor, perhaps, unable to even fully comprehend the implication of the British occupation of Manora and Karach harbor. Since the end of Sindhi ruling dynasty of Kalhoras (1701-1783), Sindh had been essentially a lose confederacy of powerful Talpur Baloch tribes with three seats of power at Hyderabad, Mirpur, and Khairpur. For centuries, the Sindhi society was stagnating under decadent but highly oppressive class of big landlords, tribal leaders, Syeds and Pirs (revered religious leaders who had acquired large tracts of land in grants from corrupt rulers). Most of the Sindh’s big landlords were the descendents of Baloch or Pathan tribal chiefs who had, over a period of time, entering into Sindh from North-West, occupied lands and were permanently settled here. Unlike Punjab, there were not multiple rivers in Sindh except for the mighty Indus and its few rain collecting tributaries. Sindh is almost at the outer edge of the Monsoon rains system. Most of its population lived along the Indus, cultivating in the silt brought in by yearly summer floods when the river regularly overflows during Monsoon season. Indus River empties itself into the Arabian Sea, forming a large delta near Karachi in the south-east.

Sindhi rulers didn’t have a trained army worth its name. They only had some ill-equipped Lashkars (armed bands) of unruly tribesmen, primarily for settling scores among themselves in their unending tribal feuds or to suppress their Haris. No wonder, in the final battle with the British at Miani, near Hyderabad, in February 1843, the British General Charles Napier was able to rout Talpur’s Lashkar in one day with over 5,000 Baloch killed against only 257 casualties on the British side. Karachi was made an army town and military cantonmet was established and lines were laid to bring water supply from Damloti wells in Malir to Karachi town. Basic modern police and judicial system was built for the first time. After four years, in 1847, the strategic administration of Sindh was appended to the British Residency at Bombay. The extremely conservative tribal-feudal Sindhi society outside Karachi was, however, initially left practically undisturbed in its harsh traditional bonds.

In mid 1850s, from a purely military perspective plans were made to lay a railway line from Kotri to Karachi, connecting its small sea port with the nearest inland waterway on the Indus River, flowing down from Punjab and north-west. The Sindh River upwards from Kotri was then still navigable. The Karachi-Kotri rail link was completed in 1861, after a brief interruption due to 1857 mutiny in the northern India. On a short inaugural drive of a locomotive engine carrying departing Sindh Commissioner Bartle Frere to Keemari port for his voyage to Calcutta, John Brunton, the Scottish Chief Engineer of the ‘Scinde Railway’ wrote in his diary, “The native of Scinde had never seen a Locomotive Engine, they had heard of them as dragging great loads on the lines by some hidden power they could not understand, therefore they feared them supposing that they moved by some diabolical agency, they called Shaitan (or Satan). During the Mutiny, the Mutineers got possession of one of the East Indian Line Stations where stood several Engines. They did not dare to approach them but stood a good way off and threw stones at them!”

At this time, due to an event, otherwise entirely disconnected with Sindh or India, taking place in faraway America, the Karachi-Kotri rail link turned out to be an extremely useful and timely investment for the British Raj. The far reaching impact of the American Civil War played a crucial role for a paradigm shift in the life of Karachi and consequently of Sindh, which remains largely unnoticed or is ignored. The American Civil War (1861-1865), in which seven major cotton producing southern states of USA rose in rebellion and declared independence from the northern federation, caused a major disruption in the supply of American cotton to the thriving textile industry of the Great Britain. Over 80% of cotton for the British textile industry was imported from the USA. The British textile industry (the world’s largest at the time) faced a historic ‘cotton famine’ and faced closure of over 2,000 mills, threatening employment of over 360,000 textile workers in Lancashire alone. Alternate sources for immediate supply of cotton were identified in Egypt and India. While Lancashire industry focused more on the Egyptian supplies, the Scottish textile industry in Glasgow relied heavily on Indian cotton. The Glasgow and Lancashire Chambers of Commerce jointly demanded from the Secretary of State for India that “India make good the [cotton] shortfall to protect the livelihood of the 4 millions of our people who are directly or indirectly dependent for their daily bread on our cotton manufacturers”. In addition to supplies from Surat, the cotton produce of recently conquered Sindh and Punjab regions was critical. For supply of Punjab and Sindh cotton via shortest route from Karachi to quickly reach England, logistics arrangements were to be made immediately. Cotton from Sindh and Punjab was brought on barges via Indus River up to Kotri and thereafter transported by train to Karachi for swift shipment to the ports of England. The opening of transport route via Karachi substantially reduced the transit time for other agricultural produce from Punjab compared to the long and arduous transportation across whole of vast India to Calcutta in the north-east or Bombay in the south-west. The critical, time sensitive commercial export needs necessitated rapid development of logistics and trade services infrastructure in Karachi. The Government of India directed “those provincial governments with substantial cotton-producing regions to report immediately on what needed to be done to improve the lines of traffic between the cotton producing districts and the ports of shipment.” This development suddenly catapulted Karachi’s sleepy town and essentially a military station to become a key port in the modern commercial sea lanes.

The Karachi-Kotri railway link was to be extended up to Quetta in Baluchistan. The Karachi harbor at Keemari was improved; it was connected with the mainland by building a Mole (causeway) across Chinna Creek. Later, Manora Breakwater, Native Jetty, and the Napier Mole Bridge were built in 1864. By 1868, Karachi had become the largest grain exporting port in the British Indian Empire. Accelerated foreign trade operations from Karachi brought in their wake significant growth in port assets and a network of leading British (mostly Scottish) trading companies, banks, clearing & forwarding agencies, stevedores, civil contractors, food and commodities supply contractors, whole-sellers and retailers in the market. Karachi and Bombay were connected with a direct telegraph link via a new sub-marine cable laid to link with an Aden-Malta cable to London. The first telegraph message from India to London was sent from Karachi in 1864. With the opening of Suez Canal in 1869, the sailing time from Karachi to European ports was significantly reduced from a long three-month journey around Africa via Cape of Good Hope. Within a short period of about a decade, an obscure and sleepy fishing Goth (hamlet) of Karachi grew into an important commercial town where hundreds of Europeans, Marwari, Hindu, Parsee, Jewish, Memon, Khoja, Bohra, and Chinioti investors and traders from London, Calcutta, Kanpur, and Bombay and thousands of Anglo-Indians, Jews, Goanese, Punjabis, North Indians, and Gujaratis had flocked in to service the unprecedented rapid growth of a small town into a thriving modern city. From a base of less than 20,000 by late 1850s, the population of Karachi surged to over 60,000 by 1870, tripling the number roughly in a decade. But this sudden rushing in of people from outside of Sindh caused a significant transformation in its demographic composition. Old inhabitants of Karachi—the Kutchis, Baloch, Makrani, and partly Sindhis were simply overwhelmed and marginalized by the new wave of energetic and skilled ‘foreign’ settlers. This unprecedented phenomena of massive migration from other urban centres of India, which took place in Karachi on the outskirts of Sindh’s traditional rural life was to be repeated again, on even larger scale, in next about 90 years.

In 1878, the Karachi-Kotri railway line was extended to connect with Delhi-Punjab rail link at Multan in a north-western railway system. Karachi Port Trust was established in 1886 and an East Wharf was built at Keemari port and a public tram service was started from St. Andrews Church, Saddar to Keemari harbor in 1885. Initially, steam powered and horse driven carriages were used and then gasoline powered engines were introduced in 1905. The Karachi tramway was extended to serve Frere Street on one hand and on the other to Chakiwara in Lyari Quarters, Lawrence Road in Garden Quarters and Soldier Bazar. The first aerodrome in India was built in 1924 near Malir making Karachi, for a long time, till 1970s, the first airport of call for entry into the Indian subcontinent. Karachi was the final destination of the famed journey of Zeppelin like British airship R101 in October 1930, which took off from Cardington, England to reach Karachi via Ismailia in Egypt. A special high-rise hanger was built at Karachi airport to receive the huge airship. The flight, however, proved fateful as it crashed on its way in France due to bad weather, effectively putting an end to the then ambitious British trans-continental airship service from Britain to India and Australia. The special structure built at Karachi painted black was visible from a distance on the Drigh Road and remained there till probably early 1960s and was commonly known in the town as Kala Chappra.

The first modern but informal schooling was initiated for the children of few English families in Karachi in 1847 and the first formal English school was opened in 1854. St. Joseph’s Convent School for girls was established in 1862. With the spreading influence of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s Muslim educational movement at Aligarh, Syed Amir Ali, the president of Mohammaden National Association of Calcutta arrived in Karachi in 1882 and a Mohammaden National Association of Sindh was established with a Sindhi Muslim lawyer of Turkish origin, Hasan Ali Effendi, as its first president. This Association established the first school for natives— Sindh Madarsatul Islam in Karachi in 1885. The Sindh Arts College was established in Karachi in 1882 (later converted into Dayram Jethmal (D.J.) College in 1887). The Prince of Wales Engineering College was founded in 1922, initially to train engineers working for construction of Sukkur Barrage. The college was, later, renamed as N.E.D. Engineering College in 1924 in honour of its biggest benefactor, Nausherwan Eduljee Dinshaw. Dow Medical College was founded in Karachi in 1945.

A Karachi Conservancy Board created in 1846 to look after some municipal services was upgraded to Karachi Municipal Committee in 1853. A City Municipal Act was passed in 1933 and the Municipality of Karachi was given the status of a Municipal Corporation with Jamshed Nausserwanji Mehta as it first Mayor. Mehta had earlier served as elected President of the Karachi Municipal Committee for about 20 years.

This was the Karachi with a strong heritage of modern infrastructure, thriving commercial life, and educational institutions of long standing that was chosen to be the capital of new Pakistan coming into being in August 1947.

… to be continued

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Two Fires

October 16, 2012

By C. M. Naim

On Tuesday, September 11, 2012, a horrific fire in a garment factory in the Baldia Township in Karachi killed at least 259 persons, male and female. As I read about it on subsequent days I was reminded of another fire that occurred a century earlier—to be exact, on Saturday, November 25, 1911—in New York City. It too was in a garment factory, and took 146 lives, mostly young females. Named after the shirtwaist factory where it occurred, it is known in American history as the Triangle Fire. To refresh my memory I took to the books, and soon realized that the Triangle Fire had a few lessons for the present day Pakistan.[1] (more…)

The Meaning of Mumbai

July 16, 2011

By Anjum Altaf

There are incidents in the lives of big cities that call for sorrow, but once the dust clears, no lamentation and no expression of sorrow can really do a city justice. A place that is home to millions deserves better. I aim to explore the meaning of Mumbai and then return to the salience of this latest incidence of violence in the frame of that larger context.

The meaning of a city like Mumbai is mirrored in a million stories. Take one, that of the renowned music director Naushad. Born in Lucknow and obsessed with music, he was given the choice between his home and his passion by his father. Naushad ran away to Bombay; the rest is history. (more…)

Reflections: A Visit to Karachi

February 9, 2011

By Sakuntala Narasimhan

“So how was your trip to Karachi? How was the conference?” my friends back home in India asked, when I returned to Bangalore after a week in Pakistan.

Good? Bad? In trying to choose a short answer I find myself stumped.

The second question is easier to answer – the three day conference was a fruitful, enriching, and enjoyable experience, as we interacted with artistes, activists from the arts, writers and academics from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Germany, UK and USA discussing the interfaces between politics, performing arts and gender. (more…)

What’s Happening in Karachi?

November 16, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

What’s happening in Karachi is obvious for all to see. Why it’s happening is less obvious and, for that reason, the cause of much speculation.

Karachi’s ills are complex in nature and beyond the stage of simple prescriptions. This article looks at only one dimension of the problem: Why and how have conflicts in the city taken an increasingly religious form? For that, it is necessary to look at events that took place many years ago outside the city itself. It is often the case that the present cannot be explained fully without recourse to seemingly unrelated events that occurred in other places in the past. (more…)

Karachi is a Small City

November 15, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

City size is back in fashion as a variable of interest and this time bigness is being viewed as an advantage. This is quite a change from the perspective that prevailed for years when countries, specially developing ones, were decidedly anti-urban and wished to retard migration to prevent cities from increasing in size. Size was seen as a handicap and served as an excuse to explain away the problems of big cities. How should we see Karachi in this new perspective?

Of course, well-managed big cities have been around for a long time – Tokyo, New York and London are obvious examples. But somehow it was felt that such success could not be replicated in developing countries. (more…)